Departures leave medieval history study area without faculty to teach courses

Media Credit: Sam Frey | Hatchet Photographer

The history department is currently without any professors who specialize in medieval history after faculty qualified to teach classes in the subject left the University.

There are no medieval history courses being taught this semester after faculty qualified to teach those classes either permanently or temporarily left the University.

The history department is currently without any professors who specialize in medieval history, an area of study within the department, after its full-time medievalist left the University last spring and two other professors who teach courses within the concentration took a leave of absence, students and faculty said. The department’s chair said many small programs are vulnerable when a few professors leave for other jobs or go on sabbatical.

Suzanne Miller, a professor of history and GW’s full-time medievalist, left the University last May, the history department chair Katrin Schultheiss said. Miller did not return request for comment.

Joel Blecher, an assistant professor of history in the department who specializes in medieval Islam, said he’s on paternity leave until next fall. Jonathan Shea, the department’s post-doctoral fellow and specialist on the Byzantine Empire, said he accepted a full-time position at Dumbarton Oaks – a research library in Georgetown – this semester but plans to teach one course at GW next spring.

Faculty said one or two professors are typically available to teach courses in the area of study each semester.

University spokesman Jason Shevrin said the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences would be working to ensure that required courses are offered to students in the “near future.”

“When issues arise with faculty schedules or availability, the college works to ensure required courses are taught, if not this semester then in the near future,” he said in an email.

Shevrin said medieval history is classified as an “optional specialization” in the department, meaning students must take a minimum of six courses geared toward a specific time period or geographic region. Students in the specialization take courses beyond the minimum 13 required for the history major, according to the department’s website.

History department chair Katrin Schultheiss said the department is looking to hire a new full-time medievalist after Miller’s departure, but the process is difficult because the University has yet to authorize the search.

“If you lose a faculty member, you can’t replace them that next fall,” Schultheiss said. “It just doesn’t happen that way.”

Schultheiss said areas of study in which a small number of faculty members are qualified to teach courses can face lapses in course offerings when faculty leave campus.

“Every once in a while you get a year where the stars align in such a way that the options that you had hoped would be there aren’t there, and it’s really unfortunate when that happens,” she said. “There was really nothing we could do.”

The struggle to find medievalists within the history department has raised concerns for students looking to focus their studies in the medieval era.

Jarryd Rauch, a sophomore majoring in history, decided last spring to specialize in medieval history but later found out that faculty who teach these courses had left the University. Rauch said without any courses offered this semester, he’s worried he won’t be able to complete the requirements for the area of study.

“I am just concerned because I don’t want to fall behind on my major and have to cram in all these classes when they hire someone, if they hire someone,” Rauch said.

Rauch said he is considering taking courses at Georgetown or Catholic universities next semester through the consortium, a partnership that allows some students to take courses for credit at some area schools.

Jeffrey Cohen, a professor of English who specializes in medieval studies, said although he doesn’t teach history courses, students in general who have an interest in the medieval era often take courses both in history and in English.

“Our Medieval and Early Modern courses in the GW english department are actually among our most popular courses,” Cohen said. “I’ve never taught a course at GW that has not had either a waiting list or been completely full. Students want to take these courses.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.